Obama picks four former Clinton officials for Justice Department

President-elect Barack Obama on Monday named four former Clinton administration officials as part of his new team at the Justice Department, tapping Harvard Law School’s dean, Elena Kagan, to become the first female solicitor general and Dawn Johnsen, a critic of Bush administration torture memos, to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

David Ogden, who headed the Obama transition team for the Justice Department, was nominated to be deputy attorney general.

Kagan, the first female dean at Harvard Law, reportedly met Obama when the two worked on the University of Chicago Law School faculty in the 1990s. Ogden’s deputy on the transition team, Tom Perrelli, was tapped to be associate attorney general.

Obama’s choice of Kagan to represent the administration before the Supreme Court makes her an early favorite for a seat on that court if one becomes vacant. President Johnson chose Thurgood Marshall as solicitor general in 1965 and named him to the Supreme Court two years later. Kagan served as clerk to Marshall in 1987 and 1988.

But her lengthy resume has one notable gap: She has not argued a case before the Supreme Court.


Johnsen, a law professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law-Bloomington, was highly critical of legal opinions on interrogation issued during the current administration by the small office of legal scholars that she will head if confirmed. In 2002, John Yoo, a deputy director of the Office of Legal Counsel, wrote a lengthy opinion that said the U.S. interrogators could use harsh methods when questioning suspected terrorists. And he asserted that the president, as commander in chief, had the constitutional power to bypass federal laws and treaties that prohibited the use of torture.

The Office of Legal Counsel opinions are treated as law within the inner circles of the government. But when the so-called torture memo came to light, the Bush White House withdrew it.

“Where’s the outrage?” Johnsen wrote about Yoo’s opinion. The Office of Legal Counsel is “entrusted with making sure the president obeys the law,” yet Yoo’s secret memo said he could ignore the law, she said.

There was no mention of whether Obama and his nominee for attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., intend to replace those heading the key posts at the Justice Department’s Civil, Criminal and National Security divisions, which oversee most of its high-profile prosecutions.

“These individuals bring the integrity, depth of experience and tenacity that the Department of Justice demands in these uncertain times,” Obama said in a statement released by his transition team in Chicago.

Holder’s confirmation hearing is set for Jan. 15 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And though there were early indications that he would be confirmed swiftly and with little if any opposition, Holder has more recently come under fire for his role in some controversial pardons and commutations of prison sentences issued by then-President Clinton.

“The new attorney general, the department and the nation will be well served by this leadership team,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement about Obama’s picks.

Ogden is a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr. He served as assistant attorney general overseeing the Civil Division from 1999 until 2001. Before that, he was chief of staff to Atty. Gen. Janet Reno. Ogden clerked for Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun in the U.S. Supreme Court from 1982 to 1983.

Kagan, a legal and domestic policy advisor under Clinton, has been teaching law at Harvard since she left the administration in 1999. She became a professor in 2001 and dean of the law school in 2003.

Perrelli, managing partner of Jenner & Block’s Washington, D.C., law office, was counsel to Atty. Gen. Reno from 1997 to 1999. He later became deputy assistant attorney general, supervising the Federal Programs Branch of the Civil Division.